Madeleine May Kunin - 1-May- 2006- To Life! A Celebration of Vermont Jewish Women
Ann Zinn Buffum and Sandra Stillman Gartner, project directors, interviewed Madeleine Kunin on May 1, 2006 in Burlington, Vermont as part of DAVAR’s oral history project.
Producer DAVAR: The Vermont Jewish Women's History ProjectAudio/Visual sound, color
Madeleine May Kunin was born in Zurich Switzerland in1933.
In 1940, Madeleine, along with her widowed mother and brother Edgar, escaped the Nazis in Switzerland and immigrated to the United States. Her mother never remarried and raised the two children on her own. After a short time in California, the family settled in Forest Hills, New York where she attended a reform temple. She celebrated a group Bat Mitzvah at Town Hall in NYC.
After earning her masters degree from Columbia School of Journalism she moved to Vermont at the suggestion of her brother who was already there working as a journalist. She accepted a job with the Burlington Free Press thinking, âAfter a year I (will) apply to the Paris Herald Tribune or the New York Times. Her travel ambition changed after marriage to Dr. Arthur Kunin and the birth of their four children.
In 1971 the women's movement was in full swing. Madeleine and her friend Esther Sorrell decided to run for public office. After serving in the legislature and as lieutenant governor, Madeleine was elected the first woman governor of the state of Vermont in 1985. Governor Kunin's administration expanded childrens healthcare, environmental legislation and opportunities for women. During her term, the formula for funding schools was changed to make education more equitable for all of Vermonts children.
During the Clinton administration Madeleine was appointed Deputy Secretary of Education under Richard Riley. Madeleine worked to improve science education for girls, technology education and parent involvement in the schools.
Later, as U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland she had to grapple with the controversial issue of the role of Swiss banks in World War II. At present Madeleine teaches classes at the University of Vermont, is a commentator for VPR and started the Institute for Sustainable Communities, which does both environmental and democracy work. In 2008 her book, Pearls, Politics and Power: How Women Can Win and Lead was published.
In 2004 DAVAR: The Vermont Jewish History Project was founded by Ann Buffum and Sandy Gartner. At the time, there was no other collection of Vermont Jewish womenâs life stories. Over five year period they conducted oral history interviews with 20 Jewish women living in rural and urban Vermont ranging in age from 12 to 96. The womenâs stories reflect a wide variety of interests, beliefs and occupations including women in government, education, political and social advocacy, farming, business, the arts, homemaking and religion. Some of the women have roots going back to the early Jewish settlers in the state and others have been more recent migrants. The topics they discuss reflect the history of the times: escaping the holocaust, coping with gender discrimination, breaking into politics and medicine, converting to Judaism from another faith, and making contributions to the arts and culture.
Madeleine Kunin's photo credit: Karen Pike, www.kpikephoto.com
This project was made possible in part by major grants from the Aviva Spring Foundation, Vermont Humanities Council, Damon and Marilee Buffum, Vermont Community Fund and many other individuals and organizations who have supported DAVAR through their donations.